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Male Genital Mutilation
A Feminist Study of a Muted Gender Issue
Seham Abd el Salam ©
Cairo, June 1999
B.Sc in Medicine, Graduate Diploma in Medicine, Graduate Diploma in Art Criticism,
Post masters Fellowship Research - Supervisor: Professor
American University in Cairo, School of Humanities,
Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology Department
English Version translated by: Azza Ali (Ph. D) and Seham Abd el Salam
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Chapter IV: And now where do you stand? Respondents’ attitudes towards MGM
I) Attitudes of respondents before getting new information about MGM
A) The degree of adherence to MGM
Their intentions towards their
sons’ circumcision did not necessarily
correspond to their theoretical opinion about MGM.
To explore the degree of adherence to MGM I asked the respondents about their theoretical belief of the importance of MGM, and their attitude toward any future sons. Most of the respondents expressed their confusion about the issue. They could not make up their minds about what they intended to do with any future sons. The respondents who determined either to circumcise their future sons or not were few. Their intentions towards their sons’ circumcision did not necessarily correspond to their theoretical opinion about MGM. Some of them who decided that MGM is not necessary were still confused about if it is appropriate to circumcise their sons or not.
...parents are responsible
for the protection of their children’s
bodily integrity till they reach eighteen years of age
... (and) should resist any social pressures to circumcise their sons.
Some of the respondents thought that MGM is not necessary. One of them is Salah, who thought that the widespread ideas about the relevance of MGM are not valid. His evidence is that non-circumcised men are potent. Salah stated that if he ever has a son he would not circumcise him, because parents are responsible for the protection of their children’s bodily integrity till they reach eighteen years of age. Thus, parents should resist any social pressures to circumcise their sons. After eighteen, a boy is free to do whatever he wants to his own body.
Fathy was another respondent who thought that MGM is unnecessary because the presence of the prepuce does not justify parents’ interference with the bodily integrity of a baby who cannot decide for himself. Fathy said that when his wife got pregnant they discussed the issue of MGM in case that they get a baby son. They agreed not to circumcise the baby, irrespective of its gender.
Dr. Mona knew lately some information about the anatomy and physiology of the male prepuce. By the time of the interview, she thought that MGM is not necessary, and regretted that she had already got her two sons circumcised. She stated that with the new information, if she happens to have any future baby son she would not circumcise him.
Dina did not think that circumcision is necessary, especially after her son’s circumcision. From his experience she knew that MGM is harmful to boys, exactly as FGM is harmful to girls. At least, both types of genital mutilations have negative psychological impacts. Thus, she determined not to circumcise any future son of hers.
Mostafa thought that if circumcision were necessary, humans all over the globe would have adhered to it. However, he knew that the majority of humans are convinced that MGM is not necessary; hence, they do not perform it to their sons. Nevertheless, he stated that in case of having a future son he has to read a lot of scientific articles in order to get convinced and not to circumcise his son for traditional cultural considerations.
Aisha already thought about the issue. She concluded that the dominant assumption of the necessity of MGM originated because people are accustomed to see little boys circumcised. Apart from this, MGM is not necessary. However, in spite of her theoretical conviction that MGM is useless, and in spite of her difficult experience with her two sons’ circumcision, she intended to circumcise any future son of hers. She was even ready to pass through the same crisis once more and hate herself in order to make the new baby similar to his brothers.
According to her understanding, tahara is a meaningless term.
Nousa thought that the term "tahara," which means "purification," is not an accurate signifier of the nature of MGM, because it has nothing to do with either cleanliness or hygiene. According to her understanding, tahara is a meaningless term. However, she was still confused about her future sons. Her confusion started with reading about FGM. She said:
"When I started to read about FGM one year ago, I prayed God to give me daughters only, because at that time I was not sure if I should circumcise my son or not. Honestly, I was confused. Thus I prayed God to spare me that difficult test. In my confusion, I thought that it is not appropriate to cut part of my son’s body, but on the other hand, this cut may have a hygienic significance. Nevertheless, I knew that some researchers discovered the fallacy of the health justifications. Thus I started to think about dismissing health justifications and confronting my traditional biases. I do not want my son to feel strange and different, but how can I justify it to him if he later blames me, when he grows up, for what I did to him as a child. However, I was mostly worried about the possibility of my son’s death in circumcision. I will never be able to forgive myself for such a drastic mishap. I was very obsessed by this issue. Even one of my friends exclaimed that I make such a fuss about my future son while I am still single. She asked me to postpone such worries till I marry, and then I can start to think about what will happen if I get a son".
Dr. Khadiga thought that there is no difference between circumcised and non-circumcised males; hence MGM is not necessary. However, she was not determined about any future son. She stated that she does not care to circumcise her son or not. However, the desire of the baby’s father should be taken into consideration. If her future husband does not insist, and the child has no problem, she will leave him intact.
...confusion about MGM is
like the confusion of women
who feel afraid to leave their daughters intact.
Dr. Salma did not think that MGM is necessary. However, she was not sure of what she may do with any future son. She was afraid that his schoolmates might tease him if he is not circumcised. Dr. Salma is very active against FGM, and she thought that her severe confusion about MGM is like the confusion of women who feel afraid to leave their daughters intact. She said that this part of the interview put her in a difficult situation. If she herself was not able to take the challenge of sparing her son MGM, how comes that she asks people to take the same challenge for their daughters? By the time of the interview, Dr. Salma had not find a solution to this difficult question.
She was not also convinced
that she had the right
to carve her child’s body to match her taste.
Samia did not think that circumcision is necessary. She was not also convinced that she had the right to carve her child’s body to match her taste. However, she was afraid that he might be socially rejected if he is different and not conforming to the dominant social norms. That is why she was confused and not determined about her behavior with any future son of hers.
"...The day men say that MGM is bad I will support this issue."
Other respondents thought that MGM is necessary. Nehal is one of them. She stated that if she ever has a son she is sure to circumcise him. She explained:
"I will circumcise him because there is no evidence that circumcision is beneficial nor harmful. Thus, in terms of my knowledge, I have to conform to the dominant traditions. It is said that Egyptian men are very sexy because they are circumcised. Accordingly, besides being a tradition, circumcision will provide my son with an additional advantage. I accepted to act against FGM because it deprives girls from an important body part. For example, my mother did not circumcise me without hearing or reading about FGM because she suffered when she was circumcised as a young girl. So, she discovered by herself that FGM is bad. Have you ever heard males stating that MGM is bad? This is an important point. The day men say that MGM is bad I will support this issue."
Dr. Hussam and Dr. Yara thought that MGM has no health, biological, or psychological advantages, however, it is a social necessity. They experienced social pressures to push them to circumcise their son. Therefore, Dr. Hussam thought that if there were a social change that leads to the existence of a predominant majority of intact men, he would not have circumcised his son. Dr. Hussam said:
"I was under a social pressure to raise my son in conformity to the predominant social traditions. If I left him intact he would be different, while I had no information that circumcision will cause severe damage. In conclusion, I decided to let him grow in similarity to his peers. On the other hand, if I get well proven knowledge about the hazards of circumcision, I would be ready to quit it."
Dr. Hussam and Dr. Yara did not determine their intentions towards the circumcision of any future son. Dr. Husssam said:
"I did not like my son’s experience with circumcision. I would not like him to experience such a shock. Yes, circumcision is a shock. I do not know what sort of impact will it leave on him. What I am sure about is that it is definitely a severe shock"
In spite of Dr. Hussam’s perception of circumcision as a shock, he was confused about the decision towards any future son, especially because such a son will have a circumcised elder brother. I asked Dr. Hussam about his decision if the case were concerned with a limb amputation. In this case, would he get a younger son to have the same operation that was already done to his elder brother? Dr. Hussam laughed and said that in such case he has to accept the difference between the two brothers, because limb amputation is more harmful than prepuce amputation. Dr. Yara agreed with her husband. She added that she is well knowledgeable of the functions of all other body parts, and she ignores the long-term hazards of circumcision. That is why she does not consider circumcision equal to limb amputation.
Dr. Hazem thought that it is impossible to say that circumcision is better for health. Nonetheless, he strongly believed that it is very difficult to negate its necessity. Dr. Hazem justified his beliefs by that according to methodology, it is more difficult to prove a negative than a positive conclusion. Thus, the matter needs difficult controlled studies in order to scientifically prove that retention of the prepuce is not harmful to men. I asked him if there are other body parts rather than the prepuce that need difficult studies to prove that their retention is not harmful to the individual. He answered that there are a lot of such body parts. According to him, such parts include the ovaries and uterus after menopause, especially when there are fibroids. Nevertheless, he soon retreated to say that doctors stopped to recommend removal of these parts because updated studies proved that they are necessary for women’s health, even after menopause. Their removal increases the possibility of development of osteoporosis. Although Dr. Hazem defeated his own argument; I told him that I still see that such example does not apply to circumcision. His example is about pathological cases. No one doctor volunteers to remove the ovaries or uterus of a woman except if she visits him with complaints. On the other hand, parents take intact children who have no complaints to a doctor for circumcision. Then, he started to seek other justifications for circumcision. He said that humans used to perform MGM for thousands of years. They should have imagined that it prevents some health hazards, so that they continued to do it. He himself cannot guess what our ancient ancestors imagined about the hazards of retention of the prepuce. However, since they considered circumcision necessary, he agrees with them. Dr. Hazem affirmed that if he happens to get a future son he is sure to circumcise him. First, because he does not have sufficient accurate quantitative studies that prove that circumcision is not necessary. Second, because he will be afraid to make him different from the others. He said:
"If I get a new son now I will never imagine that he will not be circumcised, although I do not know exactly what is the health significance of circumcision. The quantitative studies have the problem of the negative variable. It is much more difficult to prove that something does not happen than to prove that something happens. Consequently I will not hesitate to circumcise any future son, even for mere social reasons. In other words, I do not want the boy to feel that he is different, even among his classmates. According to my knowledge – which is not decisively challenged up till now by any different information – circumcision has no health hazards. We doctors circumcise boys to eradicate the polluting secretions that lead to infections to the man and his sex partner. However, this was not the reason of circumcision of my elder son."
Seif believed that MGM is necessary because he is not decided if it is true or not that circumcision improves sexual performance. However, this uncertainty made him hesitant about circumcision of any future son.
Some of the respondents did not have a determined opinion. For example, Abu el Fotuh said: "I have a border-line belief, I think it is neither necessary nor not necessary". He was also unsure of his behavior towards any future son. He added:
"I am not sure. If I could not develop a belief about the sexual significance of the prepuce I may circumcise him because I do not want him to be different. With circumcision, he will avoid unnecessary embarrassment. I am sure that I will never be able to prevent him from being different from others all his life long. Thus, making him similar to them by circumcision will give him a chance to concentrate on developing more essential differences from his peers than just to be genitally intac."
Dr. Fahmi thought that the question about the necessity or non-necessity of circumcision is not worthy of being asked. He said that he preferred to leave things as they are because circumcision is a social norm, and it is not an issue of priority for him.
Sa‘eed stated that after his son’s experience with MGM he has to be careful with any new son. If he found that the hazards of circumcision overweigh the social harm of neglecting circumcision, he will leave him intact.
Hureya refused to answer the question. She said that she respects science and the other opinion. She said that she has no objection if controlled scientific research proved that male circumcision is not necessary. However, she did not develop a determined personal view about the issue.
B) The personal attitudes towards intact men
To explore the respondents’ personal attitudes towards intact men I asked them about their expected behavior if a non-circumcised man proposes to marry a dear relative, such as a sister or a daughter, or the respondent herself (in case of single female respondents). All of the male and female respondents agreed that in a situation of proposal to marriage, it would never occur to their minds to ask about the suitor’s circumcision status. In case that they accidentally discover that he is not circumcised, this will not make a difference. They will never refuse him for this reason, and they will never ask him to get circumcised as a condition for marriage. They justified their attitude by that it is not their right to ask someone to get circumcised because such a request is an inappropriate intervention in his personal freedom. Abu el Fotuh added that he may even interfere to convince his daughter to accept such a man if she hesitates. He will tell her that bodily integrity is a human right.
However, Dr. Hazem said that he will not refuse the man, but he may make the discovery of his non-circumcised status a subject of joking.
Dr. Nazmi started by refusal to imagine such a situation. He said that most Muslims are circumcised, and most of his non-circumcised acquaintances are Christians, this means to him that it is unlikely that one of them may propose to marry his daughter. I asked him to imagine that one of his non-circumcised acquaintances may convert to Islam and propose to his daughter. He said that in such case, he would not refuse him, nor ask him to get circumcised.
Dr. Salma laughed heartily when she heard the question. She said disapprovingly: "God forbids! Are you crazy to imagine that I may ask for a circumcision of such a man!" She added:
"I may joke with my female relative, and ask her to tell me the difference according to her experience… but no, I will never tell her to ask for circumcision of her intact suitor."
Aisha said that in such a situation she would advise her female relative to consult a doctor. If there is no health problem, she will defend the young man’s right to bodily integrity, exactly as she does with women.
Hureya shared Aisha’s attitude. However, she said that she would not even advise her female relative to consult a doctor; because she knows that lack of circumcision does not affect a man’s sexual potency. She added that if she is protesting against some men’s request to get their wives circumcised, she would do the same with any woman who asks for her husband’s circumcision.
This question was not an abstract idea, but rather a real probability for four female respondents, Nousa, Dr. Khadiga, Samia, and Dr. Mona. Nousa and Dr. Khadiga were single, i.e., they can imagine such a probability for themselves, not for another female relative. They stated that they were not worried about such a probability. Nousa knew a friend who insisted to ask an intact man who proposed to her to get circumcised, on the assumption that a prepuce is dirty. Nousa did not approve of what her friend did, and stated that if she were her, she would never have done that.
Samia is married to a foreigner. When he proposed to her family to ask her hand in marriage, her father was worried lest the suitor would be non-circumcised. He justified his worries by that an Egyptian woman’s marriage to a non-circumcised man is against the dominant social traditions. However, there was no problem for Samia’s father because the suitor happened to be circumcised. I asked her about her expected behavior towards this issue if it happened that her suitor was non-circumcised. She said: "Nothing, then I would get accustomed to his unfamiliar appearance, as long as it does not have a negative sexual impact."
When Dr. Mona was young, a European man proposed to her. She asked him, and knew that he is not circumcised. She got worried about this situation, which is unfamiliar to her. However, it did not occur to her to ask him to get circumcised. She said that they did not marry because their living circumstances were hard to match, and that his intact status was not a factor in their separation. I asked if she was not worried by her information at that time about the relation between the prepuce and cancer cervix. She said that this information did not intimidate her because she knew that cancer cervix is not prevalent in Europe, where millions of men are not circumcised. That is why she had no objection to marry an intact man.
C) Attitude towards the society’s right to alter the individual’s body
Fathy thought that parents
have not the right
to take such a decision on behalf of the child.
Some respondents thought that the society has no right to alter the body of a non-consenting individual. From this perspective, Salah considered that FGM and MGM have a common background. Both are aggression against another person, who is a vulnerable junior, unable neither to object nor defend him/her self. In other words, he thought that in principle, it is horrible to cut a healthy body part. That is why he is against both FGM and MGM.
Fathy shared the same opinion. His attitude was based on the respect of the child’s bodily integrity. Accordingly, he thought that it is not appropriate to control a child’s body by a surgical procedure that does not serve his best interests as an individual, and that may have hazards. Consequently. Fathy thought that parents have not the right to take such a decision on behalf of the child.
Sa‘eed never thought about the social right to alter individuals’ bodies before, however, he developed the awareness that circumcision is an inappropriate interference in another person’s body after experiencing his son’s circumcision.
Abu el Fotuh said that he never questioned the dominant social beliefs about the polluted nature of the genitalia before. He knew that people from countries with hot climates think that excessive sweating makes it difficult to keep the genitalia dry and clean. Thus, the prepuce is thought to be in need of more effort to clean than the circumcised penis. Abu el Fotuh said that he recently revised his old beliefs, and he thinks now that they are invalid and do not warrant cutting a part from the child’s body. His motive to change his old ideas was that he developed more and more sensitivity against violation of the human body. He considered such violation as a sort of oppression, and he absolutely disagreed to it. When he recalled his own son’s experience with circumcision, he considered it difficult. Nonetheless, he did not change his attitude because of his new information about the sexual function of the prepuce. He still was not convinced of the great relevance of this function. He said:
"But even if nature is mistaken, and the prepuce is a sort of rudimentary remnant of development, even then, cutting it to satisfy parents’ beliefs, and without the individual’s will and consent is not appropriate."
I asked, who has the right
to decide and seek the procedures to pay such price?
Dr. Hazem answered by giving a comparative example: abortion.
On the other hand, some respondents believed that society has the right to alter individuals’ bodies without their free consent. Dr. Hazem considered circumcision as a price worthy of being paid for social acceptability, which is realized by altering the male genitalia in conformity to the traditions. I asked, who has the right to decide and seek the procedures to pay such price? Dr. Hazem answered by giving a comparative example: abortion. He said that women claim the right to abortion for subjective social or psychological reasons. Abortion is a decision to eliminate a non-consenting fetus according to its mother’s, not its own will. By analogy, society has the right to decide to eliminate a piece of skin, even if it is attached to the body of an individual child. He said:
"As long as I am going to give women the right to get rid of a whole potential human being, not just a piece of his body, without asking his consent I have similarly to give the society the right to get rid of a piece of an individual’s skin without asking his consent."
Dr. Hussam justified his acceptance to the idea of social control of children’s bodies by the issue of guardianship. He thought that a guardian has the right to take critical decisions about a child’s body without his/her consent. For example, guardians agree on behalf of children in case they need major surgeries without asking the child’s consent. According to Dr. Hussam, the same applies to circumcision. The fact that the prepuce is a physiological not a pathological structure did not make a difference for Dr. Hussam. By the time of the interview, Dr. Hussam still was holding this belief, even after his son’s circumcision, which he described as a severe shock that may have long-term psychological impacts. Dr. Hussam thought that guardianship should give the guardian absolute rights over the minor, even the right to subject the minor to an unnecessary surgery against his best health interests such as circumcision as long as the guardian considers it necessary because it is a social tradition.
Dr. Nazmi refused the idea that a child should be left to decide for himself when he reaches majority. He believed that parents are entitled to ask for their child’s circumcision, and it is a doctor’s duty to serve their desire. He thought that parents’ request for a child’s circumcision is different, for example, from their request to cut the tip of his nose. In this case, a doctor should not obey them, because this is a body mutilation. However, he considered circumcision as an esthetic surgery because it is God’s law "shar‘ Allah."
Dr. Salma acknowledged that her acceptance of MGM in terms of its being a socially accepted tradition is inconsistent, exactly as her attitude towards ear piercing of baby girls. She used to urge her friends to pierce their baby daughters’ ears, and if she herself happens to have a daughter she will pierce her ear lobes because she likes to see girls wearing earrings. Dr. Salma added that this is an example of how people behave by instinct, because if the matter is left to the girl’s choice she may prefer not to wear earrings. However, some of her relatives did not pierce their daughters’ ears, but when the girls grew up they selected to have more than one hole in each ear. When I asked if adults supported these girls against ear piercing, she said no.
D) Attitudes towards conformity to the dominant social trends
No respondents expressed explicit tendency towards acceptance of deviation from, while some of them expressed clearly their tendency to hail conformity to, the dominant social trends. The rest of the respondents occupied different positions between conformity and acceptance of difference.
a) Hailing conformity as a value
Sa‘eed stated that his wife hesitated to circumcise their son, but he was unable to take a decision to leave the boy without circumcision in a society where all men are circumcised. He was afraid that an intact boy might seem strange among people, so that he may be treated as a special case. He said:
"Let us speak frankly. Even if it is sure that circumcision is not a hygienic requirement, it will make him look like other people. Thus, he will not grow up with a unique attribute that may result into his being abused by others all his life long, or gets him to be considered less masculine than his peers".
Sa‘eed used to wear eyeglasses, thus, I asked him if he intends to provide his son with one, even if he has no error of refraction, so as to realize the similarity between father and son? Or if his son’s friends tattooed their skin, would he take his son to be tattooed to make him look like them? He said that he will never do such behaviors towards his son, but he thought that circumcision was different from these two examples. I asked if he really meant to make his son a copy from his peers? He replied that the reverse is true. Sa‘eed said that current society is not in its best state, and he does not wish to see his son similar to an average member of it. He himself has more advanced ideas than the predominant social views. However, he did not think that rejection of circumcision is meaningful in this context, given that, as far as he understands, it is harmless.
According to Dr. Hazem, the worst result of convincing people to stop circumcising their sons is that non-circumcised men would not be conforming to social norms, where such conformity is a critical sign of social straightness. He found that the Egyptian society is similar to the American society in that both societies require conformity to the average social norms and behaviors as a price of social acceptance. For example, even a high class American person will be ridiculed and lose social acceptance if he celebrates his wedding in an odd manner. A contrast example is the French society, where an individual’s deviation from the dominant norms is an asset. Dr. Hazem concluded that by the same token, MGM is an important factor to emphasize the value of conformity.
He argued that prevalence of
a specific tradition among
the average majority is a term that justifies conformity to it.
Dr. Hussam had a similar opinion. He argued that prevalence of a specific tradition among the average majority is a term that justifies conformity to it. Thus, he justified his acceptance to subject his son to MGM and his refusal to subject him to tattooing, even if it prevailed among his peers, by that MGM matches the average social norms. It is performed by the average majority, not only by a group of youngsters, or even by persons of a specific age group. When I asked Dr. Hussam what will be the case if his circumcised son selected to immigrate to a country where MGM is not the norm. He answered that in such case, he will have a lot of justified differences from the indigenous population, including circumcision. Even if he selected to live in USA where most men are circumcised, he will still have other national and religious differences.
Aisha thought that it is better for the mother and child to experience the circumcision crisis than to let the child go out to the society without circumcision. Society will not accept a non-circumcised male, thus, he will develop psychological problems. She knew that a child could be different from the others in many other aspects. For example, he may be the only person in his family without eyeglasses, or he may have a brother with a limb amputation while his own limbs are intact. However, she did not think that a child might safely differ from the others by being non-circumcised, because cutting the healthy prepuce is socially acceptable while cutting a healthy limb to ensure child/father or child/brother similarity is not acceptable.
Women who grew where FGM is
a tradition insist to circumcise their daughters
because they think that non-circumcised women will look...strange.
Dr. Afkar said that she lately experienced a change of her theoretical ideas about MGM. However, this change did not extend to her practical behavior. She elaborated that MGM was not an issue to consider before, but now, she is revising her thoughts and attitude. However, if she really happens to have a new son, most probably she will circumcise him because she does not want him to deviate from the social norms. She added that the contradiction between her theoretical and practical attitudes drew her nearer to understand the reason why rural people circumcise their daughters. I asked her to imagine her behavior if she happens to get a new daughter in our society, where 97% of women are circumcised. She replied that her peer medical doctors and her social class do not circumcise their daughters. She added that if the situation was different, i.e., if doctors used to circumcise their daughters, she will never be the first one to refrain from circumcising her daughter, except if she were very convinced and knows all aspects of the issue. She was still hesitant about MGM. She was not too convinced to be a pioneer in sparing her son circumcision. She added disapprovingly:
"Most probably I will circumcise any new son of mine to avoid making him strange among his peers. Do you want him to be the only boy in the group with such a dangling piece of skin!! This will make him feel mutilated and abnormal."
Then she commented on herself and said that what she said reminded her of women who say the same thing about FGM. Women who grew where FGM is a tradition insist to circumcise their daughters because they think that non-circumcised women will look mutilated and strange. Although she is aware that her son has a lot of differences from his peers, e.g. he does not wear eyeglasses; she said that circumcision is different. She will never oblige her son to wear eyeglasses if they are not necessary for him, even if most of his peers wear them. However, circumcision is a ritual that emphasizes his belonging to a specific cohort and community. Such rituals should be observed for all people, so as to avoid differences during childhood and adolescence. She gave a comparative example by fasting. She herself does not keep the Islamic ritual of fasting. However, when her son was a child, she encouraged him to fast. She has no objection if he selects not to fast as an adult. She said:
"Because I do not want him to feel as if he were a strange beast if he is a non-fasting 6 years old child in a class of fasting children… a human individual needs to belong when he is a child… Circumcision is like fasting in this context… I circumcised my son on basis of the power of social tradition. Circumcision is one of our traditions, why do not we observe it?"
Dr. Afkar acknowledged that her example is not very significant. Circumcision is different from fasting in that it implies an irreversible cut, so that a circumcised child cannot revert to the intact status if he chooses so as an adult. However, she did not see this as big a problem as raising a different child. Not only did Dr. Afkar apply her ideas on her son, she also discouraged a couple of her friends to leave their son intact. They were reluctant to let their son suffer unnecessary pain. She said:
"I said to them, how come!!! Do you want him to be so different from other children just as ET?!!!… Circumcise him for God’s sake "haram ‘aleikoum." I used the term "haram ‘aleikoum" because I felt pity for the child. Other children may tease and chase him, and call him names because of his strange appearance."
Dr. Afkar was the only respondent who observed the ritual of Mushahara with her son’s circumcision at her mother’s request, although this ritual conflicts with her beliefs and knowledge. She said:
"As far as I remember, my mother said that we should not let any person who is recently shaved or who carries fresh raw meat to enter the circumcised boy’s room. We used to do whatever she says without discussion to avoid her stubbornness."
...she did not think that
male genital integrity is so important
that it deserves making such an effort.
Samia agreed to circumcision for nothing more than conformity to tradition. She said that she had evidence from her social circle to support her choice. A non-circumcised 6 years old son of one of her friends felt shy to take off his clothes in front of others because several people commented on his different appearance. Samia thought that such comments from school personnel might have a severe negative psychological impact on the child. She imagined that the situation would get worse when the boy starts his sexual life. She expected that girls might destroy him psychologically when they criticize his appearance. Samia believed that non-circumcised men face no health neither sexual problems. Nonetheless, she thought that male circumcision has a critical psychological function. She argued that men identify with their external genitalia as part of their identity. That is why, unlike women who feel shy, men are proud of their genitalia. In spite of such argument, she believed that men do not desire to remain intact, because of the dominant beliefs about the health and esthetic significance of circumcision. She gave a comparative example by women’s attitude towards depilation of pubic hair. Some women select to spare themselves the pain of the unnecessary tradition of pubic hair depilation, however, they keep their choice as secret for fear of social rejection. Because schoolboys used to undress in front of each other, non-circumcised males cannot hide their intact status. That is why males cannot feel free to select not to be circumcised. I discussed with Samia the possibility of giving psychological support to her friend’s intact son to be able to face the comments of other people instead of suggesting circumcision to spare him such comments. Samia agreed that it is possible to support the child to encourage him to accept his difference, however, she did not think that male genital integrity is so important that it deserves making such an effort. Moreover, she suspected the validity of support as a tool to help the child to overcome his embarrassment. I personally knew this child whom Samia spoke about. His family circumstances allow him a chance to live in Europe if he chooses to do so. Thus, I asked her how would she imagine the situation of this child if his parents follow her suggestion and circumcise him, then he selects, as an adult, to live in a place where males are not circumcised? She said that this would not be a problem because she thought that all European men are circumcised.
b) Uncertainity (with inclination towards conformity)
They accepted difference at
the theoretical level,
but selected conformity in actual behavior.
Some respondents were undetermined. They accepted difference at the theoretical level, but selected conformity in actual behavior. Abu el Fotuh argued that the only benefit of circumcision would be similarity to peers. For Abu el Fotuh, similarity is very important. Any deviation from the regular male appearance may make women reject a man as a sexual partner, or create other social problems to him. He said:
"Exactly as you give him a strange or an old fashioned name, as "Abd el Baset", while all his peers carry names like "Tamer", "Wa’el", or "Haitham". In such case, other children will ridicule him because of this name, "Abd el Baset". I think this is the only reason that may push enlightened people to circumcise their sons, even if they are convinced that the prepuce is an important body part".
I argued back that unlike names, circumcision is irreversible. A boy called "Tamer" can change his name to "Abd el Baset" if he chooses to do so, but a circumcised boy cannot restore what he lost. Abu el Fotuh solved this problem by arguing that it does not exist. He argued that the propensity towards conformity with the dominant social trend is so strong, that even if a family neglected their son’s circumcision, he will seek circumcision by himself as an adult in order to be similar to his peers, a situation which will cost him more anxiety and embarrassment. Abu el Fotuh stated that he would not be able to make his son similar to others all his life long. He will ensure his similarity to others during childhood only, because in this stage people are unable to face a different status. Children need similarity because it helps socialization and sharing a common life with peers. Thus, they can focus on becoming different in more essential issues. However, Abu el Fotuh thought that people would be able to resist social rejection of deviation from the norm in the context of a social movement that challenges the dominant concepts.
c) Uncertainity (with inclination towards deviation from the dominant)
Human history proved that
development of societies has depended always
on deviation from the established norms.
Some respondents were undetermined, but they inclined to accept deviation from the dominant norms. Dr. Fahmi thought that it is possible to impose the acceptance of individual differences in spite of the ongoing attempts of stereotyping. This possibility is based on the privilege of having stronger attributes than the average majority. For example, a child without eyeglasses in a class with a majority of students with eyeglasses may be proud by the fact that he sees well from backseats, or by having a tall stature. On the other hand, members of a minority with a less socially privileged attribute, like individuals who have a short stature; red hair; furuncles; extremely low or high pitched voice; or an unveiled girl in a class with veiled majority, are sure to suffer because of their differences. It is impossible to solve all problems of that sort. Members of such a different minority have to confront ridicule all the time, till they develop other privileged attributes, like excelling in a special area of interest that may bring them equality with their regular peers. A non-circumcised boy will find himself in such a situation. Dr. Fahmi thought that deviation from the regular stereotype has a price to be paid by the different individual. Some of such individuals may either resort to violence or to excelling in other areas in order to impose their difference on the others. In other cases, their social or economic status may protect them. Dr. Fahmi thought that in many instances, deviation from the dominant stereotype deserves such a price. Human history proved that development of societies has depended always on deviation from the established norms. At a point, an individual comes who refuses to follow the public masses. Such a pioneer presents different ideas or behaviors. All societies used to attack such pioneers in areas of science, religion, and socio-cultural change. Thus, Dr. Fahmi perceived deviation from the established norm as the engine that propels a movement towards change. He added that this applies to MGM.
Dr. Yara stated that she is not theoretically convinced that circumcision is necessary. She said:
"The idea that some body part is harmful and has to be removed to prevent its harm is odd. I cannot understand such an idea. Most probably, the male prepuce is useful and important."
Nevertheless, she circumcised her son in conformity to the Egyptian social traditions. She explained: "Perhaps, if I was living in Europe or America or any other society that accepts non-circumcised men, I would have never circumcised him".
Dr. Salma believed that similarity is important in adolescence and that non-circumcised boys will be ridiculed. However, she did not consider this so critical a problem to push parents to circumcise a boy to spare him such ridicule. In order to avoid psychological problems, she advised that such a boy should be encouraged to accept himself as he is. She was aware that some young persons seek esthetic surgeries to get rid of their differences, however, she did not approve of that. On the other hand, Dr. Salma saw that various differences have various significances for individuals, in terms of the general importance of the difference, and the individual’s self conceptualization and esteem. She argued that similarity in appearance of male genitalia is of a relatively high significance among men. Thus, it is not comparable to having furuncles or wearing eyeglasses.
...it is not his parents’
right to unnecessarily cut part of his body,
then tell him that they did so for his own interest.
Nousa argued that one of the general problems of raising children is that mothers have to impose things on children. For example, a child may hate some kind of food, however, a mother forces him/her to eat it because it is nutritious. She thought that such compulsory obligation explains why people circumcise their sons. However, she said that if she ever has a son she would not circumcise him. However, she would be worried lest he may suffer because of his difference and lose confidence in his sexual potency. This worry will be relieved only when the boy grows up satisfactorily, and thanks her for her behavior. She argued that it is the child’s right to take the circumcision decision by himself, but it is not his parents’ right to unnecessarily cut part of his body, then tell him that they did so for his own interest.
E) Attitudes towards FGM and MGM
Aisha shifted from
disapproval to approval
of raising the issue of MGM like FGM.
Some respondents thought that FGM and MGM are one issue. Fathy explained that he thinks so because it is not appropriate to violate a child’s body with no reason except for a fulfillment of a social or religious belief.
Aisha shifted from disapproval to approval of raising the issue of MGM like FGM. Several months before the interview, Aisha heard me raising the issue in a seminar. When I met her for this research interview, she told me that she disapproved of what I said then, on the assumption that MGM is a minor issue that should not be raised. However, she stated that she revised her attitude and discovered that she behaved as laypersons when she talks with them about women’s rights. She realized that any new issue usually creates similar reactions. Thus, she decided to let go of emotional reactions, and approved that I have an obligation to disseminate my information to the public, exactly as she herself does in the area of women’s rights.
I analyzed that circumcision
aims to remove feminine attributes from men
and masculine attributes from women.
Nousa stated that she experienced anxiety for a whole year after she read information about MGM. During this year, she was unable to determine her attitude. She could do that at last when she situated MGM in the framework of social construction of gender roles, exactly as she did with FGM. She said:
"When I started in depth reading about the issue I discovered that masculinity and femininity are both socially constructed in their relation to each other. Accordingly, a male is considered a man as long as he is able to penetrate a woman. I interviewed people. They told me that this piece of skin should be removed from the male body in order to facilitate coitus. Then I revised what I heard from you and another anthropologist about the cultural relevance of circumcision, and that it is a symbolic removal of the masculine part from the female body and the feminine part from the male body. I analyzed that circumcision aims to remove the feminine attributes from men and the masculine attributes from women. In other words, given that weakness and pollution are feminine attributes and aggression and ability to penetrate are masculine attributes in our culture, circumcision removes a weak and polluted part from a man and an aggressive penetrative part from a woman. Thus, a male could be turned into a man and a female into a woman."
"I consider what
happened as intentional torture.
It is different from accidental injury.
...I did not perceive MGM as an equivalent torture
except after my son’s experience."
Dina changed her attitude towards MGM and considered it as an equal issue to FGM after her son’s experience with circumcision. She said:
"I did not start to think about the issue except in terms of my relationship with my son, not because I was preoccupied with the issue of MGM, but because I am in a very intimate relation with my son. He is an integral part of myself; I was worried and reluctant to let him suffer injury and pain. However, he was circumcised under anesthesia. He was resuscitated from anesthesia, but he was injured and in pains. I consider what happened as intentional torture. It is different from accidental injury. In circumcision you take the boy to the doctor with the intention of cutting. Before my son’s circumcision my attitude towards MGM was different from FGM, because I myself suffered FGM. It was a bad experience. My mother is not circumcised and she opposes FGM. My grandmother arranged my circumcision. I attempted to escape for two days. The first day I locked myself in the small closet till the barber left. The second day I ran down the street, but they could capture me. Thus, according to my experience, I see FGM as torture. I did not perceive MGM as an equivalent torture except after my son’s experience."
"...the two procedures
are the same, since there is cut in both cases,
with the same justifications such as cleanliness, purification,
esthetic appearance of genitalia and so forth."
Dina explained her new attitude as follows:
"My point of view is that circumcision is violence against boys and girls. Why should one discriminate? Of course, I am not a doctor; so, my opinion is not based on medical information. However, the two procedures are the same, since there is cut in both cases, with the same justifications such as cleanliness, purification, esthetic appearance of genitalia and so forth. There is one difference only. One of FGM justifications is female chastity, which is not so explicitly expressed in MGM. In other words, a boy is not considered a carrier of family honor. He is rather responsible for avenging any violation of his sister or wife’s honor. Absence of chastity as a justification of MGM is the only difference between it and FGM as far as I understand."
Other respondents viewed FGM and MGM as two different issues. Sa‘eed justified this attitude by that he thinks that FGM is not so prevalent in Egypt as MGM. According to him, this means that FGM is not based on an ancient social experience as MGM. Sa‘eed was astonished when I told him that FGM in Egypt has a prevalence rate of 97%. He said that it might be a recent increase, because his father used to say that female circumcision is a habit of Cairen slums. Sa‘eed came from an Upper Egyptian village. He said that girls in his village, including his sisters and female relatives, are not circumcised. Thus, Sa‘eed believed that FGM is a criminal act because it curbs female sexuality. This is the main difference between FGM and MGM according to his view, because he thought that circumcision did not affect his own sexuality.
Dr. Hazem did not consider MGM as an issue at all, while he considered FGM as a serious issue. The justifying difference is that FGM has a negative psychological impact.
He stated that according to
his knowledge, male circumcision
does not result in functional disturbance.
The difference between FGM and MGM from Dr. Hussam’s perspective is that his definition of mutilation does not apply to male circumcision. He defined mutilation as an injury that results into functional disturbance, not just structural damage. He stated that according to his knowledge, male circumcision does not result in functional disturbance.
On the other hand, there is
not enough information
about male circumcision. Thus, people do not understand
its negative sexual impact.
According to Abu el Fotuh, the difference between FGM and MGM is the degree of people’s awareness of the nature of each procedure. For example, from his personal social interaction with and observation of women, he knew that FGM has a negative impact on women’s lives and marital relations. He is from a rural origin, and he knows well the negative psychological impact of FGM. That is why he struggled to spare his female relatives the suffering of FGM. He thought that many Egyptians might do the same, because Egyptians inherently hate violence. On the other hand, there is not enough information about male circumcision. Thus, people do not understand its negative sexual impact. He said that apart from any cultural or religious considerations, people think that circumcised male genitalia are cleaner. Thus, no one thinks of sparing the prepuce.
...her delayed awareness of
MGM may be due to her historical conflict
with men: her brother, her ex-husband, and her male bosses at work. That is why she hated men as a gender, and was not willing
to defend their rights.
Dr. Laila found areas of similarities and others of differences between FGM and MGM. The similarity is that both are humiliating. Stripping and cutting are humiliating and are remnants of slavery. However, there is a difference that separates the two procedures. Culture and society placate the males and compensate them for the humiliation of MGM by giving them great authoritative power. Thus, men hold patriarchal, class, family, and state powers. Dr. Laila is active against FGM since a very long time. However, she developed awareness of MGM since the last few years only. Dr. Laila justified this awareness difference by that she herself was circumcised as a child. She described the memory of her circumcision experience as an abscess that floats on the surface of her memory. She explained also that the reason of her delayed awareness of MGM may be due to her historical conflict with men: her brother, her ex-husband, and her male bosses at work. That is why she hated men as a gender, and was not willing to defend their rights. She said that in this context, she applied the principle "start with yourself, then with your dependents." Thus, when she felt that she did her best for her own gender, she started to consider the other gender: males. She regretted her delayed awareness of the horrible nature of MGM. She explained that awareness develops gradually and not all of a sudden. She developed a new awareness of men, not because of any reconciliation with them, but because she grew beyond the age of experiencing harassment in the public space because of her femininity. That is why it was impossible for her to defend males when she was younger. However, the most relevant experience that helped to create her awareness of male’s sufferings from circumcision was her own son’s circumcision. He suffered for two weeks after circumcision, and she suffered too. She said: "I was very furious, I even wished if I could kill the doctors of the hospital." Then, the issue faded out with her busy life responsibilities, till it surfaced on her consciousness when the issue of FGM was raised in 1994. She developed more awareness of the issue of MGM because in the 1990s she found abundant resources about the function of the prepuce and the hazards of MGM, while such information was scarce in the 1960s when her son was circumcised. Nevertheless, she raised the issue in the doctors’ syndicate in the 1960s, but she could not defend her argument exclusively. She said:
"I used to keep silent about MGM, which is wrong.
Now, with my acquisition of information I can talk loudly."
"My real awareness emerged when my son was circumcised in the USA. When American doctors circumcised him I felt that what they did is faulty, and got very angry. However, I did not know then what to do… I had no information. I always thought that we should stop male circumcision; I even raised the issue in the doctors’ syndicate. However, when I asked the doctors who pioneered the fight against FGM about their opinion on male circumcision they used to say that it is very useful… None of them said it is harmful. Moreover, when I spoke against MGM they used to attack me. Thus, I used to keep silent about MGM, which is wrong. Now, with my acquisition of information I can talk loudly."
Dr. Fahmi thought that from the perspective of the human right to bodily integrity, FGM and MGM are one integral issue. However, he sympathized with females more than males because FGM is an indicator of male dominance over females and women’s submission. He agreed that infant male circumcision implies submission and control as well. However, he thought that circumcision is not likely to cause psychological injury to a boy, because after all, society values masculinity, and circumcision is a rite of passage to manhood. Thus, when circumcised boys reach adolescence, they feel proud in having similar genitalia as their peers when they see each other, and consider this similarity as a sign of belonging to the group. This is not the case in adolescent girls’ communities because girls are socialized differently. They are not allowed to expose their bodies to each other because they learn that their bodies are taboo. Dr. Fahmi acknowledged that FGM is equally considered a rite of passage to womanhood in social groups that observe it. In such communities, women used to state that they are reluctant to abandon female circumcision lest their daughters may grow with a different appearance from other women, which may discourage men to take them as wives. However, given the taboos that surround female sexuality and women’s low social status, he thought that male circumcision has a milder impact on a boy than female circumcision on a girl. Girls are socialized to believe that they are social and sexual objects. That is why Dr. Fahmi perceived FGM as a starting point of a series of severe psychological oppressive procedures that compromise women’s self image. He thought that this is not the case with MGM. That is why he did not equate FGM and MGM. From this perspective, FGM is a priority for him.
Dr. Yara thought that FGM and MGM are not the same issue because she was not aware that the male prepuce has a sexual function. On the other hand, she knew that FGM results into a permanent infirmity to the female by removing sensitive tissues.
According to Dr. Salma, the difference between FGM and MGM is grounded on the different social strategies that underlie them. She said:
"I see that in both cases there is some sort of mutilation. But not all types of mutilation are equal. FGM results in a whole system of oppression. I do not think that this is the case with MGM. Male circumcision does not result in social restrictions to boys. Another difference is the severity of the social punishment that is expected in case of neglecting circumcision. Non-circumcised girls face moral accusations. In case of non-circumcised boys, they face nothing but some comments on their different appearance, but no one confronts them with expectations of future immorality."
Dr. Salma added that consequently, confrontation of FGM is more difficult than confrontation of MGM:
"It is much more difficult to eradicate FGM, because you cannot offer a fair alternative for the expected social punishment. Instead, you try to make pioneers from people, which is very difficult. On the other hand, MGM needs pioneers who can take the challenge of deviation from the dominant norms, however, they will not be subjected to value judgment of their morality."
...she would not take
an initiative to combat MGM.
However, if men take the initiative to move against MGM
she will support them absolutely.
Thus, Dr. Salma stated that she would not take an initiative to combat MGM as she already did with FGM. However, if men take the initiative to move against MGM she will support them absolutely. She justified her attitude by the fact that she is not a male. In combating FGM she can raise the issue from a personal perspective and tell her experience as a non-circumcised woman, exactly as circumcised women tell their experiences. From this perspective, she considered women activists more privileged than men activists against FGM. Moreover, she thought that men are not courageous enough to talk about their sexual problems. It is difficult for a man to say in public that he has a problem because of his circumcision. Hence, comes the difficulty of establishing an organized movement against MGM, because men presuppose that their sexuality should never be questioned. Moreover, Dr. Salma argued that a movement against FGM would bring about change in women’s lives, ensure more women’s rights, and dilute social restrictions on women. She added that women would not get the same gains if they combat MGM. However, she was not against combating MGM, and she did not think that it would compromise the issue of FGM, because the idea of opposition to any alteration of the natural human body is the core of the movement against FGM, and MGM depends on the same idea. Thus, movement against MGM will augment this idea.
Hureya refused to mix FGM with MGM. According to her perspective, FGM is more harmful and it is not equal to MGM. Thus, she thought that fighting for both issues would compromise the issue of FGM. Hureya justified her attitude by that MGM is supported by religious and historical convictions. Thus, she expected that struggle against MGM will be much more difficult than against FGM. The tools that are used by FGM opponents will be weak tools against MGM because the information about the function and structure of the male prepuce are recently discovered, and are not known to many people. Moreover, she never heard any of her male family members complaining from hazards of circumcision, while many circumcised women complained from such hazards. She guessed that men do not complain because they ignore the difference of practicing sex with and without a prepuce. However, she refused to adopt the issue of MGM because she should have priorities when she selects social issues to adopt.
Dr. Khadiga thought that the prepuce has a function. However, its function is not as important as the function of the clitoris. She said that removal or retention of male prepuce would not make a big difference. Moreover, updated information about the prepuce is known to all European doctors, but not to Egyptian doctors, for example, the well-known information that the prepuce has nothing to do with cancer. Another difference between FGM and MGM is that Egyptians believe that MGM is a religious requirement, which is not the case in Europe. Even European Jews acknowledge the existence of a Biblical text about male circumcision, but they interpret that it does not mean that male circumcision is globally obligatory to all men all over history. She believed also that there are similarly different and conflicting Islamic religious texts and opinions about FGM. She can use this disagreement to encourage people to question FGM. However, she thought that all theologians agree that MGM is a religious obligation.
Samia was still undetermined, even about the appropriate terminology. She said that the phrase "male genital mutilation" implies an attitude against male circumcision. The term "tahara," which means purification has a positive connotation that supports male circumcision on basis of cleanliness. Samia stated that MGM is not a priority. In an idealistic world, she could have said that MGM is bad, however, it is not so bad as FGM. Prioritization from Samia’s perspective depends on two differences between FGM and MGM. The first is that the two procedures have absolutely different reasons. FGM helps to establish unbalanced gender power relations and discrimination against women. On the other hand, male circumcision is not meant to impose chastity and monogamy on men. It is rather done for hygienic or religious reasons, not to curb male sexuality. The second is a practical consideration. Samia aimed to attract people to listen to her arguments against FGM. She imagined that if she addressed MGM as well, people may hit her, or just would not listen to her. Samia’s expectations are based on that MGM is a socially accepted tradition and an integral part of people’s everyday life. It was never challenged before as FGM. Even before the International Conference of Population and Development (1994) there were efforts against FGM that she can build on them, while this is not the case with MGM. Thus, Samia thought that activists against FGM would lose their credibility if they combine FGM with MGM, because the latter challenges convictions that were never challenged before. Moreover, combining FGM and MGM will suggest that they are the same, while she considered them anatomically different. She also never heard men complaining from their circumcision. She thought that no man finds it difficult to reach orgasm because of circumcision. She guessed that men might keep silent because they do not remember their circumcision, which is usually done at an early age. She concluded that she felt shocked about FGM, but not about MGM.
F) Attitudes towards the idea of preventive surgery
Some medical texts promote circumcision as a preventive surgery for protection against urinary tract infection, some types of cancer, or sexually transmitted diseases. However, medical ethicists consider preventive surgery controversial. Thus, I interviewed respondents with medical profession about their attitude towards preventive surgery. All of them stated that apart from circumcision, they never operated upon healthy persons who have no pathological signs or symptoms. These doctors already knew that there are other body parts that may get infected or develop a malignant tumor, e.g. the breast and the prostate, and that a human can live without such parts. I asked them if they – theoretically and apart from their actual practical experience – agree to remove such parts surgically for prevention? Some of them agreed to perform preventive surgeries in some cases, and some refused the idea exclusively.
Dr. Fahmi said that he refuses the idea of preventive surgery, and he would never do it to any one, even at their request. He explained that when he was a medical student, he read the following words of a thinker called Sir Ausper: "Medicine is a noble profession because it aims to eradicate the reason of its own existence. Moreover, it is a great profession because we, doctors, are guardians of life." He always remembered these words, which played a major role in guiding him to commit himself to appropriate medical ethics. However, he did not use to perceive male circumcision as contradictory to such ethical guidelines because he did not perceive it as a surgery at all. He rather perceived it as non-surgical procedure, exactly like cutting nails. Thus, he used to circumcise healthy babies who have no pathological signs at their parents’ request. He added that his past behavior reflected the degree of his awareness when he was a junior doctor. However, he developed better understanding for Ausper’s words over time, and by now he thinks that the prepuce is not analogous to the projecting part of the nails. Unlike the prepuce, the nail has no nerve or blood supply. He added that he used to believe that circumcision was a safe operation, because he knew that house officers, who usually perform it, are not allowed to perform surgeries that may have fatal consequences.
Dr. Hazem accepted the idea of protective surgery for some cases. He added that he is not the only doctor who accepts to do surgeries for intact healthy persons. He gave an example by a minor surgery such as implantation of contraceptive capsules under the skin of healthy women. Although he acknowledged that contraceptive implantation is not as a complicated surgery as male circumcision, he found similarity between the two procedures. In both cases, a person pays the price of being subjected to surgery in exchange of gaining a greater benefit, either according to the person’s or the community’s accounts. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that there is a difference between the two examples. He would never do contraceptive implantation except to an adult consenting woman, at her own request. On the other hand, circumcision is done to a minor non-consenting baby at his parents’ request. However, such a difference did not mean a lot to Dr. Hazem. He thought that the prepuce is unique in that it is the only healthy body part that should be removed surgically. From Dr. Hazem’s perspective, a good analogous example is removal of the non-inflamed appendix in case of any other abdominal surgery, to prevent the possibility of any future need to remove it if it happened to be inflamed.
Dr. Nader refused the idea of protective removal of the breasts or the prostate to eliminate the possibility of any future cancers, because he thought that their removal would interfere with proper physiological functions. However, he considered male circumcision different, because he thought that there is no evidence that it has hazards if it is done properly.
Dr. Nazmi performed male circumcision because he thought that it is Sunna of the prophet. He thought also that it ensures genital cleanliness, and parents’ insist to ask for it. Nonetheless, he refused to perform female circumcision in spite of the fact that parents’ insist to ask for it and think that it is Sunna of the prophet. He justified his different attitudes in spite of the common beliefs that surround FGM and MGM by that he shares the parents’ beliefs in case of male circumcision, but this is not the case with FGM. Otherwise, he refused the idea of belief-based or preventive surgeries. For example, he emphasized that the surgical scalpel should never touch a healthy breast or prostate because they are valuable body parts. He added that the prepuce could not be compared to the prostate, because the prostate is important to male sexuality while the prepuce is not. In spite of Dr. Nazmi ’s strong belief that male circumcision is an affirmed Sunna of the prophet, he ignored the many centuries’ long controversy among theologians about the religious relevance of male circumcision.
Dr. Yara had never performed preventive surgeries. However, she knew that there are controversial arguments about preventive hysterectomy, with or without removal of the ovaries, after menopause. One opinion argues that surgeons have not the right to unnecessarily remove an intact healthy body part. The other opinion argues that surgeons have the right to remove the uterus after menopause, even without any pathological signs, in order to prevent the possibility of getting cancer uterus. Dr. Yara agreed to the first arguments. She thought that women would need to retain their uteri, even after menopause, just to feel that their body is intact. She remembered a patient who was a post-menopausal woman with uterine fibroids and prolapse. Gynecologists advised hysterectomy. The woman wept and begged them to let her retain her uterus. They had to comply, remove the fibroids and correct the prolapse without hysterectomy. Although Dr. Yara refused "preventive" surgeries to post-menopausal women because of their right to enjoy bodily integrity, she agreed to, and already performed, male circumcision. Her motivation is her belief that by circumcising male infants she protects their future sexual partners from cancer cervix. Thus, she did not find a problem in the idea of the absolute necessity of male circumcision. She did not even think to pause and listen sympathetically to the children’s screams. According to her, she is accustomed to hear human screams because of her profession. For example, as an obstetrician, she had to perform episiotomies without anesthesia in many instances because of lack of anesthetics in governmental health facilities. Although she sympathized with the patients’ pains, she had no other choice except to operate without anesthesia. She stated that she feels comfortable because, unlike many other obstetricians, she never performed routine episiotomies. For her, there should be a critical indication for the surgery. Dr. Yara equated routine male circumcision to routine episiotomies. In both cases, a human being experiences a forced infliction of an unnecessary body injury.
Dr. Khadiga thought that removal of any healthy body part is against medical ethics. However, she thought that male circumcision is exempted from such ethical principle because it is not a medical practice. She considered male circumcision as a social or religious procedure. Medical doctors are involved in such procedure because they are part of the big society, but not on their professional capacity. She exclaimed: "If it is a socially and religiously accepted procedure, why should not a doctor cut this part from a boy’s body? Why not?" She added that she is personally convinced that according to medical ethics a medical doctor should not cut any body part except if it is proved that its retention will cause a problem, nonetheless, she accepted to perform male circumcision as part of her medical training, because when she graduated in the 1970s male circumcision was absolutely accepted by the medical community.
II) Attitudes of respondents after getting new information about MGM
I briefed respondents about the most updated medical information about the structure and function of the male prepuce (see appendix 3). Then, I tested the probability of changing their public and personal attitudes towards MGM. On the personal level, I interviewed them about their probable behavior towards any future son of theirs or their relatives or friends after having this information. On the public level, I discussed their probable behavior in a public session if they hear someone defending MGM or assuming that it is beneficial and not hazardous as FGM.
A) Probabilities of changing personal attitudes towards MGM
Her conscience cannot bear
the burden of keeping silent
after getting such knowledge, thus, she preferred not to get it at all.
To explore the probable behavior of respondents towards their own or others’ sons after getting updated information about MGM I discussed with them their intentions towards any future sons of theirs, or their behavior if they happen to hear that some relative is intending to circumcise his/her son. One respondent only (Hureya) absolutely refused to know any updated information, because if she knew she would be obliged to move. She said that she is already overloaded, and she is ready neither to get new information nor to embark on a new movement. Her conscience cannot bear the burden of keeping silent after getting such knowledge, thus, she preferred not to get it at all. Thus, 22 out of the 23 respondents got updated information, which was new to them in different degrees. Some of them, Nousa; Dr. Khadiga; Dr. Laila; Dr. Nazmi, Dr. Hussam; and Dr. Yara, had already known some of these information. However, none of them had complete or detailed knowledge of the structure and function of the male prepuce, hazards of MGM, or MGM world prevalence.
Eight respondents with a majority of men (6 men) said that they are theoretically convinced of the information, however, they were still hesitant to implement them in practice. Twelve respondents with a majority of women (8 women) said that after getting this information they will neither circumcise their future children nor advise others to do it to their children. Two men stated that in spite of the updated information, they insist to circumcise their own and other children. Following is a description of the different arguments.
...the social image of
masculinity is so exaggerated that it makes it
difficult to challenge the established conceptualization of the male body.
Some respondents stated that they are not quite sure about what to do, should they advise others against MGM or not. They stated that they are hesitant because it is a difficult issue. In the Egyptian, like all Arab, society the social image of masculinity is so exaggerated that it makes it difficult to challenge the established conceptualization of the male body.
Dr. Nader was hesitant because he thought that the information he got about the relevance of the male prepuce was not sufficient to convince him that what he learnt as a medical student about the hygienic significance of male circumcision is not valid. He said that he needs more information and more courage to take the responsibility of conveying such information to others. Thus, for the time being he may be able to talk only with some near relatives who are able to understand him.
Dr. Hussam interpreted his current hesitation to advise others against male circumcision by his insufficient knowledge about the matter. He stated that in order to be convinced he needed to read and evaluate updated texts himself, then conclude the pros and cons about the necessity or hazards of male circumcision. On the other hand, he said that he couldn’t neglect the information he got from me. Thus, he would be unable to keep silent if he heard that someone intends to circumcise his son. However, he would not give him a settled and final opinion. He would rather tell such a parent that circumcision is a very difficult and violent experience for a child. Dr. Hussam was not settled about his own behavior towards any future son. He said that having an already circumcised elder son complicates the matter. This fact is a sort of pressure that pushes him to make the two brothers similar to each other.
Seif said that he must revise his previous neutral attitude towards MGM in terms of the new information, and that he should take a determined attitude like his exclusive opposition to FGM. As for his behavior towards any new son, he expressed his need to think it over and consult enlightened doctors about it.
Mostafa stated that he needs more careful reading so as to reach a conviction that lack of circumcision will not result into problems for the boy, as a child because of his difference from his peers or as an adult through interference with his marriage plans. Mostafa said that he tends to revise his attitude after he got the updated information about the functions of the prepuce. However, the fact that there are 30 million circumcised Egyptian males makes it difficult to advise not to circumcise newly born male infants.
Moreover, he considered the
idea of difference as a positive and nice idea.
Difference could be a sign of being special, instead of being a source of embarrassment.
Abu el Fotuh was hesitant because he needed some time in order to assimilate the updated information that I briefed him about. He thought that he has now some strong points that may motivate him to oppose male circumcision, along with some weak points that instigate him to keep silent for a time. The strong points were his newly upgraded awareness of human and environmental rights, which stimulate him to take a general attitude against any violation of the human body and mind, or any environmental destruction. The weak points that made him hesitant were fear from difference, and the public belief - which he did not share - that circumcision is a religious requirement. He added that after viewing illustrations of natural intact male genitalia, he no more sees them ugly, and contrary to the public imagination, he found no great difference between the appearances of circumcised and non-circumcised males. Moreover, he considered the idea of difference as a positive and nice idea. Difference could be a sign of being special, instead of being a source of embarrassment.
Dr. Salma stated that the information that she got during the interview made her skeptical about her acceptance of male circumcision, because she never imagined it as such a hazardous and unnecessary procedure. However, this information is not sufficient for her to determine a settled practical attitude. Nevertheless, our discussion stimulated her to think seriously that parents have no right to take the circumcision decision on behalf of the male child.
Dr. Afkar was theoretically convinced with the new information, but she was not convinced that male circumcision should stop. She added that in case of getting a future son she would circumcise him in conformity to the social tradition, but that time, it would not be without some hesitance.
Some of the respondents said that they will not circumcise any future son, and will advise others against male circumcision. Fathy stated that he would not hesitate to tell any person who intends to circumcise his/her son that circumcision is an unfounded procedure, and that parents are not obliged to do it to their sons.
"Now I can resist
traditions. Knowledge supports me to explain
to the boy how to deal with other people’s reactions."
Sa‘eed explicitly stated that after getting such information he would never circumcise any future son. Moreover, he may seek prepuce restoration for his already circumcised son. I met Sa‘eed in his office. As soon as he got the updated information he called one of his colleagues who was expecting to have a new baby within few months, told him the information, and advised him not circumcise the baby if it is a boy. I asked him if he is not worried lest this baby would look different? He replied:
"No. Now I can resist traditions. Knowledge supports me to explain to the boy how to deal with other people’s reactions. Before getting the updated information I was not aware of the issue. Awareness of the non-necessity of FGM helped me to support girls to defend their rights. Similarly, scientific and logic based awareness of the hazards of MGM will help me to defend boys and support my son to defend his rights."
Dr. Fahmi said that he is ready now to discourage any parent who intends to circumcise his son. He will ask such a parent to revise his intention in terms of the updated information. Dr. Fahmi thought that it is his duty to disseminate knowledge to others. Because circumcision is an old tradition that had been transmitted to us throughout time since antiquity, people perform it without knowing its significance and ignore the reason of their clinging to it as a tradition.
Nehal not only expressed her intention to disseminate updated information to parents who intend to circumcise their sons, but also thought of disseminating this information to the public through a press article.
Dr. Yara stated that she plans to collect more data from relevant web sites and disseminate them to other people, because there is a lot of valuable information to be taken into consideration before rushing to circumcise boys.
Dr. Mona’s eyes brimmed
over with tears when she got
the updated information. She commented with astonishment:
"Could that be possible!!! ‘ma‘oula !!!’ "
Dr. Mona’s eyes brimmed over with tears when she got the updated information. She commented with astonishment: "Could that be possible!!! ‘ma‘oula !!!’ " She added that she would react as follows with any parent who intends to circumcise a son: "I will tell him/her these information. It is horrible that we intentionally sever a sensitive part from our sons’ bodies."
Nousa said that she would start immediately to advise friends not to circumcise their sons. She added that the updated information made her more insistent to give such advice.
Dina expected ridicule on
dissemination of the new information;
nevertheless, she intended to tell her friends and relatives.
Dina expected ridicule on dissemination of the new information; nevertheless, she intended to tell her friends and relatives. She added that she needed first to read more about the issue and simplify the data before disseminating them to others, exactly as I did with her. She said:
"Your explanation was very important for me to understand. Of course I expect a lot of ridicule, however, I believe that I should honestly disseminate this information to others."
Dr. Khadiga thought that medical doctors are obliged by virtue of medical ethics to release their updated knowledge to the public. However, before doing that, she personally needed to get armed with more information.
her to confront the idea
of fear from difference.
Aisha thought that after getting the updated information she can find an adequate explanation of her sons’ agony and distress on circumcision. The information was sufficient to let her revise her convictions, and encouraged her to confront the idea of fear from difference. Consequently, she expressed her willingness to ask any parent who intends to circumcise his/her son to think the matter twice. She would also provide such parents with any resources about the functions of the prepuce and the hazards of MGM.
Samia said that she would provide and discuss new information to and with any parent who tells that he/she intends to circumcise a son. As for her own future son, she became more hesitant to circumcise him.
Dr. Laila was knowledgeable about a lot of the updated information before meeting me. She started already to disseminate her information to the public by all possible means.
Dr. Hazem saw that the
updated medical information has nothing to do
with the notion of conformity, which is his essential justification
for male circumcision.
Two male respondent medical doctors (DR. Hazem and Dr. Nazmi ) said that in spite of the updated information they would circumcise any future son or grandson of theirs, and advise others to circumcise their sons too. Dr. Hazem saw that the updated medical information has nothing to do with the notion of conformity, which is his essential justification for male circumcision. He said insistently: "I do not consider my self as an absolute conformist, however, I do not like to let my son confront such a conflict." Dr. Nazmi also considered the updated medical information irrelevant because he established his conviction about the necessity of male circumcision on his belief that it is an affirmed Sunna of the prophet.
B) Probabilities of raising MGM as a public issue
...if science has evidence
to prove that the prepuce has a function
that enhances pleasure, he was sure to do his best
to stop the massacre of circumcision.
Salah stated that he became ready to argue against MGM as he already did with FGM, because he considered them as one issue. He would do that because he believed that scientific findings should be respected. Humans aim to upgrade their enjoyment of life and economize their efforts in order to get the best achievements. Salah told me that if science has evidence to prove that the prepuce has a function that enhances pleasure, he was sure to do his best to stop the massacre of circumcision. He did not think that raising the issue of MGM would compromise the efforts against FGM, because he considered them one issue. Both of them are about human freedom, democracy, and the right to one’s body ownership.
Children’s rights involve
boys and girls.
Thus, it is not appropriate for children’s rights activists
to take an attitude against FGM and promote MGM.
Fathy said that he already raised the issue once in a public meeting with a group interested in children’s rights. He told the group that the two types of genital mutilation are the same from the human right’s perspective. Children’s rights involve boys and girls. Thus, it is not appropriate for children’s rights activists to take an attitude against FGM and promote MGM at the same time. However, the group argued that they should focus on FGM only for pragmatic reasons, because it is difficult to try to solve two problems instead of one. Fathy agreed to this opinion, however, he was aware of its pros and cons. The pros were that this idea is correct from the pragmatic perspective, because it is easier and more productive to focus on one issue. The cons were that if we take the issue from the ethical and human rights perspective, we find no difference between FGM and MGM. Although Fathy considered FGM and MGM as one issue from a human rights’ perspective, he rationalized the pragmatic argument of the group. They considered FGM as a gender issue. Their rationale was that comparison of the two procedures shows that FGM is more harmful than MGM. It makes injustice to women because it is performed in late childhood where girls can remember the experience and develop more psychological problems, in addition to the oppression that is implied in the justifications of FGM. Thus, they considered it pragmatically and strategically better to focus on FGM till it is fully eradicated, then start to take an action against MGM. Fathy compared this pragmatic attitude towards MGM to the strategy of termination of childhood labor. It is planned to end childhood labor gradually, because it is impossible to end it abruptly. I argued back that there is no gender discrimination in this strategy, it happens gradually to boys and girls. He agreed, and justified that the issue of childhood labor has nothing to do with gender. But in the issue of circumcision, he thought that gender is a key element because of the age difference at circumcision. Girls are circumcised in a later age than boys, and he thought that that causes more negative psychological impact. However, he stated that in case of the existence of documented data about the hazards of MGM, such as pain; hemorrhage; death; shock; or psychic trauma, he and his group should revise their pragmatic attitude. He thought also that it is important to get sufficient quantitative data about male circumcision in Egypt before starting to act against it. The problem will deserve action only if it is big. Fathy thought that approaching the issue of MGM from the perspective of the right to bodily integrity would compromise the efforts against FGM. However, he equally thought that sacrifice of men’s bodily integrity is not a term for realizing female bodily integrity. Fathy reached a self-defeating conclusion by stating that the correct approach to combat circumcision is equal rights for men and women.
...he would speak in public
and tell people
that retention of the prepuce does not diminish masculinity.
Sa‘eed said that he would speak in public and tell people that retention of the prepuce does not diminish masculinity. He considered MGM and FGM as one issue, because intervention with pleasure would produce confused persons, a matter that will have a negative social impact, hence, the importance of bodily integrity. Sa‘eed thought that it is the intellectuals’ duty to disseminate their knowledge to the public.
She did not find that we
should tolerate MGM
in order to succeed in our efforts against FGM.
Dr. Yara also stated that she would make it clear to the public that old information about the necessity of circumcision is outdated. She did not find that we should tolerate MGM in order to succeed in our efforts against FGM.
Nehal intended to speak about the issue from a moral perspective. She thought that denying information to people is an unacceptable and selfish behavior.
Dr. Mona had some updated knowledge before the interview. She already challenged a man who was repeating the outdated information in a seminar. Dr. Mona thought that the current situation of MGM as an issue is similar to the situation of FGM few years ago. People used to resist any advocacy against FGM because they believed that it is a moral and religious necessity, and activists insisted to challenge this belief. The same applies to MGM, she said:
"What I knew now is very horrible. People promote MGM because they lack this information. It is our task as intellectuals to disseminate our information to people, even if they resist, because people usually resist new knowledge and change. It is easier for them to stick to what they already knew because change creates confusion and shakes their beliefs. Thus, people resist change because they tend to conform to the customary attitude."
...the person who will raise
the issue has to be patient
and understanding and tolerant to people’s resistance.
I asked Dr. Mona to tell me more about her experience of speaking in public about MGM. She said that the person who started spoke in an intentional provocative manner about persons who are calling for action to prevent male circumcision. The audiences were irritated. Dr. Mona told them that male circumcision is a very hazardous procedure, and that there is research embarking on serious studies about the issue, and that it is worthwhile to know the conclusions of these researchers, listen to them with open minds, and revise our beliefs in terms of updated knowledge that we ignored. Dr. Mona did not feel afraid lest her words about MGM may have a negative impact on her efforts against FGM. She thought that what is on stake is not the issue itself, but the manner of raising it. People have every right to know facts about their bodies, lives, and children, even if they will feel an initial shock. However, the person who will raise the issue has to be patient and understanding and tolerant to people’s resistance. Moreover, such person should not ridicule people because they stick to their old convictions, show hesitation or reactionary attitudes, or refuse to listen to the new information. After all, our task is to tell them full information, but they are free to take it or leave it, without any clash. She was not afraid from the severe resistance of the audiences because her speech was scientifically substantiated. She told the audiences that we all have minds, and can rationally assess any idea. So, why do we feel afraid and put barriers between ideas and ourselves? She reminded the audiences that in the past, people resisted new ideas that proved later to be valid.
Dina said that she will not hesitate to disseminate the new information about male circumcision, but she needed more reading and training to talk to people because she is not a medical doctor. She thought that people accept information about genitalia from doctors better than they accept them from persons from other disciplines. She thought that the issue of MGM is equally important as FGM. Working on them simultaneously will not have a negative impact on efforts against FGM. However, the issue should be raised through an appropriate approach to ensure effective movement, not just declaration of an attitude. However, she still considered FGM as a priority because women’s rights are still far from being fulfilled. That is why she suggested the formation of a specific pressure group for the issue of MGM as a matter of division of labor between FGM and MGM activists.
Dr. Hazem said that he is hesitant to talk about the un-necessity of MGM in public because he does not encourage absolute ideas; he rather preferred to say that there are different options. He also thought that raising the issue of MGM would compromise efforts against FGM.
Seif considered MGM as a
serious public issue
because it affects a broad sector of population.
Seif considered MGM as a serious public issue because it affects a broad sector of population. He said that he is willing to talk in public and ask people to revise their attitudes. He will tell them also that they should not take sharp reactions towards any new information, because we discovered that a lot of our taken for granted beliefs did not stand for critical revision. However, according to Seif, it is easier to make people doubt the credibility of FGM for two reasons: 1) FGM was raised since a long time, and some people started to think that it is really invalid. 2) Most people think that FGM deprives girls from a functioning organ, whereas MGM involves only removal of a functionless piece of skin. That is why it will take a lot of effort to convince people that MGM is hazardous because this is the first time to disseminate information about the function of the prepuce. That is why he suggested that it is better to wait until we do more work on eradication of FGM before we raise the issue of MGM. Till then, we have to prepare our argument and to empower ourselves by scientific data. Nevertheless, he thought that we might make pilot attempts to raise the issue at times. He personally does that in some issues. When he perceives that audiences are reluctant to accept his point of view, he usually raises the question and leaves it to them to think it over.
Mostafa thought that FGM and MGM are important issues. However, he was not willing to explicitly reveal his point of view about MGM except in an encouraging environment to avoid problems.
...because the public
consider(s) male circumcision as a taken for granted
social tradition(,) (a)ny challenge of their beliefs would be considered
as a Jewish conspiracy...
Abu el Fotuh thought that raising the issue of MGM will compromise the efforts against FGM because the public consider male circumcision as a taken for granted social tradition. Any challenge of their beliefs would be considered as a Jewish conspiracy – although Jews observe male circumcision. Moreover, it is difficult to discuss issues related to the genitalia because Egyptians, or people of the orient generally feel embarrassed to view such illustrations. Even sex education in schools is still difficult to realize. Thus, if we neglect all of these considerations and rush to raise the issue of MGM we may fail. However, because he is accustomed to tell the truth, if he heard someone promoting MGM in public he will try to correct their information without giving them a shock. But he will not adopt MGM as a cause because it is not a priority for him. He thought that there are much more important social issues. Moreover, he was still convinced that MGM is not so horrible as FGM where a whole female genital organ is severed.
Dr. Nader did a lot of fieldwork. He noticed that MGM is never raised as an issue per se. It is usually raised within the context of addressing FGM. He said that if that happens in his presence, he is not sure if he is going to speak or neglect it. His reaction depends on the environment. If people are ready to listen to this subsidiary issue without losing the main issue of FGM he may talk, but otherwise he would not. His measure will be the type of arguments used by the audiences. If they were the sorts of audiences who attack FGM eradication efforts on the assumption that it is a western conspiracy to spread immorality and that activists against FGM are corrupted clients of the west, he will not find courage to raise the issue of MGM in such an environment, even if an audience promotes MGM. On the other hand, with a group of audiences who focus on the motivations and hazards of FGM, he may insinuate a comment on MGM. However, he will not carry out strong advocacy against MGM because he has not sufficient data, and because he is not personally so convinced of MGM as FGM hazards.
Dr. Fahmi said that if he hears someone repeating fallacies about MGM he would tell them that although MGM is widespread, it is not beneficial. He will confront such audiences by telling them that they are not ready to change their customs because change is a challenge to behavioral stereotypes. Anyhow, they are free to do what they want, but they should know that MGM is neither a Sunna of the prophet nor a hygienic practice. Dr. Fahmi did not think that efforts against MGM and FGM are contradictory. He imagined that attitudinal and behavioral changes are mainly associated with the level of objective thought in the society, in contrast to superstitious thinking; the questioning mentality in contrast to the imitative one; and the independent behavior that is based on personal conviction in contrast to conformity. That is why he thought that the issue of MGM might participate to a certain degree to enhance socio-cultural change. He thought that it is definitely an issue. However, his political experience tells him that although some issues are interesting to intellectuals, they are not a social priority. He argued that such issues should be postponed till the big society could perceive their problematic aspect and stop to consider those who raise them as odd persons who make an issue out of trivialities. I argued back that he is involved in action against FGM while it is not a social priority according to his terms. He said that he agrees, but he had to get involved in FGM because it is a human rights issue, and in spite of its wide prevalence in Egypt (97%), it is still less prevalent than MGM. In this sense, he thought that a struggle against MGM would be in vain. He cited this rhyme as representing of his point if view:
As an ibex who butted a rock to break it,
The rock remained intact,
And the ibex broke his horns.
"kanateh sakhratan Yawman leyowhinaha,
Fama darraha wa awha qurnaho elwa‘lo"
Dr. Fahmi added that FGM is part of oppression that is performed against women as a gender category. He considered MGM as an equal violation of weak children’s right of bodily integrity. However, males are eventually compensated for their loss when power holders are selected from them, such as Saddam Houssein, so and so president, and so and so king. That is why he did not consider MGM as a priority for the time being. I argued that male children are equally entitled to bodily integrity and freedom from undue pains, which justifies struggle against MGM. He argued back that it is easy to defeat my argument by using anesthesia to solve the problem of pain. I asked if he would accept a similar solution for FGM, and he said no. He thought that FGM is meant for women’s subjugation and defeat in their conflict with men. He thought also that men are very afraid from the idea of gender equality, even at the existential level if women get the ability to enjoy life or take equal human rights.
Dr. Salma was ready to correct any wrong information about MGM in a seminar, but she refused to take the initiative to form a task force against MGM. Her reasons were related to her age and her general level of optimism about the world. She said: "If I were 20 years younger I may have taken such an initiative."
Aisha said that if she felt that the audiences in a public meeting are severely attacking the idea of combating MGM, she might keep silent. But if she felt that they are less aggressive, she may tell them what she knows about the updated data, and advise them to read more about the issue.
"Even if someone promotes MGM in a public seminar, my priority will still be FGM. I think that arguing for male bodily integrity in public will have a negative impact on the movement against FGM. In spite of the fact that both are gender issues, I will be accused of being a western agent, a loose woman, … etc. In this case, FGM proponents will gather forces against us, and we cannot face that. Even those whom we could attract to our side will leave us. I think it will be like beating our heads against a wall, because more people agree to MGM than FGM. I know that there is contradiction in my argument, because so many people agree also to FGM, exactly as they agree to veiling. When you challenge them they will mention thousands of prophetic sayings and Qur'anic verses, although my field experience tells me that religion is not the first factor in MGM, but it is so well established tradition that there is no need to refer to religion to justify it."
She added that she felt enthusiasm to struggle against FGM in spite of its being a well established tradition and that people refer to religion to justify it because she is a woman, and FGM compromises women’s rights. She was not ready to do the same for the issue of MGM. She acknowledged that both are gender issues, but she did not think of MGM from the perspective of gender power politics as she did with FGM. She thought of MGM from a personal perspective, as a woman who may mother a male child and feels confused about the decision of his circumcision, or a friend who sympathizes with men friends’ pains. But she was indulged in the issue of FGM from a public perspective as a woman interested in women’s rights. The personal factor was excluded in the issue of FGM because she was raised in a family that does not circumcise girls. Thus, there was no probability for her to think about her own daughter’s circumcision or to sympathize with any circumcised female relative or friend. She even had not heard of FGM before 1994 when she fainted on viewing the CNN video about the circumcision of a female child. Apart from her strong bias for women at the practical level, she thought differently at the theoretical level. Theoretically, she believed that intellectuals have obligation to disseminate their information to the public. This applies to MGM as well. She thought also that eradication of FGM, as a tradition of social significance, requires discussion of male sexuality, MGM, and the whole notion of carving femininity and masculinity. Nousa was aware of her contradictions. She argued that in terms of gender issues it would be logical to raise MGM as an issue that needs study and discussion. However, she had a subjective feeling that she should not raise the issue of MGM in public.
Dr. Khadiga was reluctant to argue much about MGM in public because it is a deep-rooted tradition, however, she may mention some updated studies if someone promotes false information in a seminar. Although FGM is equally deep-rooted as a tradition, she thought that there is still a wider area for maneuvering about it. She added that she could easily argue against the religious justifications of FGM because of the evident conflicting theological opinions about it, which is not the case with MGM as far as she believed. That is why she thought that raising the issue of MGM will have a negative impact on the efforts against FGM.
Samia stated that the updated information raised her interest in MGM. She said that she is ready to correct any false information in public. She did not believe that raising MGM as an issue per se would interfere with the efforts against FGM. The decisive factor in this respect is the manner of raising the issue.
Above was a detailed description of the respondents attitudes towards MGM, which developed from the summation of their past knowledge, beliefs, and experiences. I also explored the possibilities of change of respondents’ past attitudes in terms of the updated information about the structure and function of the male prepuce and the history of MGM. The following chapter is an analysis of the described respondents’ knowledge, beliefs, experiences and attitudes.
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